AinslieCruickshank-JesseWinter

Meet our new biodiversity reporter, Ainslie Cruickshank

B.C. has more biodiversity than any other province or territory in Canada, so we’re dedicating a full-time reporter to covering it

It started with a coffee. At the time Ainslie Cruickshank was working as an environment reporter at the Star Metro based in Vancouver. She was curious about The Narwhal and wanted to learn more, so she met with co-founder Emma Gilchrist. 

“I was really impressed with her vision for what reporting on the natural world could be,” Ainslie said.

It’s this natural curiosity and desire to learn that led her to study journalism straight out of high school. “Rather than choosing between political science or geography, English lit or biology, I chose journalism, thinking I’d have the chance to learn little bits of all of those subjects.” 

Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism

She was right. Journalism has allowed her to learn a bit about a whole range of topics while covering politics in the Yukon and Ontario early in her career, and environment issues in B.C for the last several years. Over the years, she’s had the chance to write about habitat restoration to help declining salmon populations, struggling honeybees, mine pollution threatening endangered fish species and B.C’s cycle of wildfires and floods

Now, Ainslie joins our B.C. team as our new full-time biodiversity reporter, a position created with the support of the Sitka Foundation. (As per The Narwhal’s editorial independence policy, the foundation does not have editorial input.)

“I’m excited to make it official,” she said. “There are so many biodiversity stories to tell, I can’t wait to get started.” 

We caught up with Ainslie to hear more about what fuels her and the new skills she learned during the pandemic.

Biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank in Vancouver, B.C.
After doing so much reporting from her desk during the pandemic, Ainslie is most looking forward to getting out on the ground to meet with people in person and learn about the many pressing biodiversity and conservation issues in B.C. Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal

What’s your favourite animal? 

There are so many amazing creatures out there, big and small, that I don’t think I can pick one. 

Whales, bears, cows, horses … okay, to write about, maybe whales and salmon. I think they are so iconic and important and face lots of challenges. 

What draws you to environment reporting? 

I think that it’s just one of those topics that is so important and touches on everything. An environment story is also a policy story, and a human story, and a business story and a political story — it’s the basis of everything. Without these ecosystems and the environment, there is nothing else.

And I think journalism is endlessly interesting. It’s just this constant opportunity to learn and meet people, and then also have the chance to bring other people in so they can learn too. I think that’s what excites me is just the constant opportunity to be learning new things. 

You’ve been working for The Narwhal as a freelancer — what stories are you most proud of?

The most recent story about selenium pollution from Teck’s Elk Valley coal mines and its impact on downstream ecosystems comes to mind. After doing so much reporting during the pandemic from my desk, it felt really exciting to get out on the ground and meet with people in person. I had written about the selenium issue a few times before so getting the chance to meet some of the really interesting and passionate people who are working hard to try to understand this issue and the impact that it has on communities and ecosystems, and to actually see the places I was writing about, was a really great experience. 

A silver boat sits calmly on deep blue still water in the Koocanusa Reservoir as researchers sample water
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers field team collects water and micro-organism samples from the Koocanusa Reservoir near the Canada-U.S. border. Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal

What kind of stories do you hope to tell more of?

I love digging into complex issues and trying to connect human stories with science and policy. There are a lot of challenges right now when it comes to biodiversity and I’m looking forward to exploring a lot of those issues, but I’m also excited to learn about and share some hopeful stories about the incredible conservation work communities are doing in B.C.

Two stories I loved working on for The Star were part of the paper’s big climate change series Undeniable. One was all about the growing risk of atmospheric rivers in B.C. Working with scientists in Canada and the U.S., we were able to show that atmospheric rivers had already caused a lot of havoc in B.C. — landslides, floods and avalanches — and with climate change we’re expected to see more of them. So that was a chance to link the science of this weather phenomenon to real on-the-ground impacts that affected communities in B.C.

As part of that project, I also had the chance to travel to Kluane First Nation territory in the Yukon, where a glacier had receded due to climate change. It moved so much that it actually changed the flow of two rivers, which had significant downstream impacts on Lhù’ààn Män, or Kluane Lake, that directly affected Kluane First Nation. It was a clear example that climate change isn’t a future problem, but something that’s here now and already affecting communities. 

What does good journalism look like to you?

I think good journalism doesn’t shy away from complexity — it tries to offer new insights into a topic, shares diverse perspectives and hopefully makes a reader feel something or leaves them with something to contemplate. 

Alongside digging into some of the big challenges around endangered species and habitat destruction, Ainslie is excited to share stories about the conservation work communities are already doing. Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal

What are the biggest issues facing journalism in Canada today?

Within the industry, it can be a real struggle at times to get the time and space to work on bigger stories that require a lot of research. There are often resource constraints in terms of travel. It’s exciting to be part of The Narwhal because it’s an organization that invests in deep reporting and getting out on the ground. I think the other challenge is just trust in journalism. There are a lot of forces out there that are trying to degrade the trust in journalism. So I think trying to build our relationship with readers and find a way to restore or build trust in the work that we do is really important.

We’re all just coming through a big shift in how we lived our lives through the pandemic. Did you learn any new skills outside of journalism to get you through this strange time? 

I, like everyone else, went looking for a hobby during the pandemic. I landed on sewing because I liked the idea that there were different steps to the process. Ironing, cutting the material, pinning everything and then the actual sewing. I ended up making a few whole-cloth baby blankets for friends and siblings who were having babies. They were very simple projects that basically entail sewing together two pieces of fabric and batting together and then binding the edges. There were no major failures, just a bunch of small quilts with unintentionally wavy edges.

Has anything about learning to sew surprised you?

I don’t know why but it makes me think about solving algebra equations in high school. I’m reminded of how it’s important to pay attention at each step because if you rush through you can end up with problems at the end that are difficult to fix. That always used to happen to me with algebra, I’d skip steps and end up with the wrong answer, so I try not to rush through the cutting and pinning process, even if I just want to get to the sewing.

We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?
We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

See similar stories

A former GM plant in St. Catharines is leaking toxic chemicals

Susan Rosebrugh rose from sleep when she heard the sound of fire trucks, and turned to her partner in frustration. “Not again, Glenn,” she said....

Continue reading

Recent Posts

We’re 15 members away from meeting our September budget target. Join by midnight Friday and your donations will be matched!
We’re 90% of the way toward our September member target.
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Every new member between now and midnight Friday will have their contributions doubled by two generous donors.
Let’s match
Every new member between now and midnight Friday will have their contributions doubled by two generous donors.
Let’s match
Every new member between now and midnight Friday will have their contributions doubled by two generous donors.
Let’s match
Let’s match
Every new member between now and midnight Friday will have their contributions doubled by two generous donors.